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Breastfeed Med. 2007 Dec;2(4):195-204.

The immune system in human milk and the developing infant.

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Department of Pediatrics, The University of Texas Medical Branch, Galveston, Texas 77555-0369, USA.


The concept of the immune system in human milk emerged in the 1970s from clinical and laboratory observations made between the late 18th through the mid-20th centuries. The discovery of living leukocytes in human milk in 1970 was the final link to the chain of evidence that culminated in the concept. The concept was later expanded to include not only antimicrobial but also anti-inflammatory and immunoregulatory agents. These agents evolved to compensate for developmental delays in the immune system during infancy. Indeed, that explains the defense by human milk against common infectious diseases in infancy, necrotizing enterocolitis in preterm infants, and immune-mediated disorders such as Crohn's disease in later childhood. These diverse evolutionary outcomes underscore the superiority of human milk for the nutrition of human infants. Finally, other components of the immune system in human milk and their fate and functions in the developing infant may well be discovered in the near future.

[Indexed for MEDLINE]

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